John Boehner’s Unexplored Psyche

What makes John Boehner cry? The new Speaker of the House’s crying jags are psychoanalytically intriguing.

Boehner cries a lot in public, even when debating bills in the House. He cries when he talks about his humble past. Son of a bar owner, he grew up with 11 siblings in a two-bedroom house with a single bathroom. He said recently on “60 Minutes” that he no longer visits schools or even looks at kids playing outside because he immediately starts crying.

My intention is not to belittle Boehner but to analyze him through his childhood experiences and current behavior. We have to understand the psyche of our politicians if we’re going to reform our dysfunctional government. He has much in common psychologically with many members of Congress from both parties. They possess a level of self-awareness that’s completely inadequate to the demands of their jobs.

Boehner had a scrappy upbringing, running cases of beer and mopping the floor in his father’s bar. He put himself through school, “working every rotten job there was.” The circumstances of his childhood, along with his manner of describing it, strongly suggest that, at times, he felt unappreciated, disrespected, and lacking in value.

In varying degrees, many children experience these negative feelings. This resulting self-doubt does not magically disappear when we turn 21. Uncertainty, passivity, and a sense of being a defective or bad person linger in the psyche of adults, causing us, as one example, to be attracted to ideology or dogma in order to be accepted and feel secure. Many of us remain too weak on an inner level to develop a mind of our own.

When Boehner cries around kids, he’s not necessarily feeling their pain. He’s not seeing the world through their eyes. Rather, he’s imagining that they’re seeing the world through his eyes, through the self-doubt and pain with which he saw the world as a child. Unconsciously, he experiences himself and his political life in ways that are under the influence of these unresolved negative feelings.

He sees the children through what is unresolved in himself, through the pain he has repressed from his childhood. He’s also likely crying with relief because, unconsciously, he believes that, through his elevation to fame and power, he has liberated himself from those haunting feelings. He probably has leftover feelings of shame regarding a childhood sense of unworthiness.

Any individual dragging significant emotional baggage from the past is likely to be functioning, in terms of his or her contribution to society, at a low level of capacity. Boehner is inconsistent in his support of struggling Americans and perceives others and events from a self-centered point of view. Unresolved emotions also tend to make his beliefs and convictions more subjective than objective and dull his curiosity and insight. For instance, Boehner can’t see (and appears to have no interest in understanding) the contradiction between his tears and his frequently cold-hearted voting record.

He’s not as free as he thinks, in the sense that he has not liberated himself from the issues of his past. His success in life provides him with an unconscious defense, possibly construed along these lines: “I am not still entangled emotionally in feeling unimportant, helpless, or worthless. Look at how relieved I am to have separated myself from the plight of those children and risen above them. My relief is such that it brings tears to my eyes.”

Boehner claimed on “60 Minutes” that he cries because “making sure these kids have a shot at the American dream, like I did, is important.” We often use a sanitized, idealized self-image to cover up psychological issues, just as many of us, for instance, use virtuous patriotism to cover up our role in the nation’s exultant militarism. Acknowledgment of deeper reality is greatly humbling. Our ego won’t stand for it.

Even with lingering emotional frailties, many of us, like Boehner, can display a pleasing personality and become quite successful in the world. Our mind and ego can operate with considerable efficiency, and we can follow a formula for success even as we have significant blind-spots about our emotional life. Yet, invariably, we pay a price, often of great consequence, for the vital self-knowledge that we block off from our awareness.

If Boehner acts out what is unresolved in his psyche, as so many of us do, he could find himself—through, say, the emotional stubbornness of unconscious self-defeat—crashing back into the pain of what is unresolved in him and bringing the country down with him.

He probably won’t feel true compassion until he opens his heart to the part of him that he now disowns. His parents were probably quite decent to him, trying their best to manage a large family. Yet children can deeply feel neglected, unappreciated, criticized, or rejected through their own immature distortions of reality. As adults, we can recycle the old hurts we have taken on and sabotage ourselves in the process. We also fail to establish an authentic self through which we feel our goodness and value, and we get stuck at the ego level where we identify with a shadow of ourselves.

At this ego level, we are motivated to maintain or bolster an idealized self-image and to carry that illusion over to the groups, beliefs, or nation with which we identify. This can seriously crimp our intelligence, discernment, and wisdom, while making us negatively stubborn, unwilling to compromise. Through our ego, we’re also compelled to accentuate a sense of separation from others. We’re more likely to put individuality—along with wealth, celebrity, and power—on a pedestal.

The modern Republican Party serves as the political arm of the rich for an emotional reason. It shares with the rich a mentality that fiercely desires the feeling of being superior and separate. The rich use wealth to feel this individual exceptionalism, while the Republicans use power. Republicans have matched the oligarchy’s money grab of the past three decades with a burning desire for political power. (Obviously, many Democrats have also succumbed to this plague of civic indecency.) The lust for wealth and power is a kind of emotional addiction, and it’s produced by inner poverty. Such poverty can be understood in a secular or a spiritual sense. Inner poverty is a measure of the degree to which a person is disconnected from self, psyche, spirit, or soul.

Boehner, the working man’s son, wants rich people to pay as little as possible in taxes, allegedly in order to help the economy through trickle-down benefits. His economic ideology covers up the deeper truth. His allegiance isn’t so much to the rich as it is to the mentality he shares with the rich. His ego knows how good it feels to be separate, superior, and powerful.

On a deeper level, though, he is not powerful. It is only in weakness that a person—through his denial, resistance, and ego—seeks protection from the humbling truth about how he still lives substantially through the hurts of his past. In Boehner’s case, this protection brings tears to his eyes.

Hence, he identifies with the rich in this manner, and he’s willing, through tax favoritism, to provide them with more physical and emotional separation from their fellow citizens. This helps him and the rich maintain an artificial distance from their inner poverty. They don’t have to deal with the moral, emotional, and psychological challenges of being one of us or one with us.

We need more self-awareness from the people running our country, and we can best achieve this by becoming more psychologically insightful ourselves.